Zimbabwe near collapse after farm exodus

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The Independent Online

Zimbabwe faces food shortages and economic collapse as more white commercial farmers prepare to abandon the country after President Robert Mugabe's government announced last week that it would seize 3,000 white-owned farms.

Zimbabwe faces food shortages and economic collapse as more white commercial farmers prepare to abandon the country after President Robert Mugabe's government announced last week that it would seize 3,000 white-owned farms.

The government will begin identifying the farms, which are over and above the 804 already earmarked for seizure to resettle war veterans and black peasants, in the next two weeks, according to the agriculture minister, Joseph Made.

The uncertainty would send shivers down the spines of most white farmers, said an official of the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU), who asked not to be named. "The safest thing for white farmers is just to look for alternative business opportunities elsewhere in the world and leave Zimbabwe," he said.

The events of the past week, during which 17 white farmers were held hostage overnight when they tried to help a colleague facing attempts to drive him off his land, have convinced Zimbabweans that the June election did not mark an end to intimidation.

President Mugabe's capriciousness has made things worse: after announcing at a joint press conference with the visiting South African President, Thabo Mbeki, on Wednesday that by the end of the month he would remove independence war veterans who had illegally occupied 1,500 white farms, he made a U-turn the next day.

Mr Mugabe's earlier promises seemed aimed at saving face in the wake of a one-day strike, organised by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, in protest at the government's failure to stop the harassment of white farmers and opposition supporters.

Although the CFU has lodged a High Court application challenging the legality of the latest move to seize farms, legal experts say the application has little chance of success. Mr Mugabe has changed the constitution to give his government the right to seize land without compensation. His government has ignored previous decisions declaring seizures by war veterans to be illegal.

The CFU official said harassment of white farmers had intensified after Mr Mugabe backed off from his conciliatory remarks. "We have engaged this government for the past five months, but sanity can hardly prevail. Mugabe's ministers have been talking to us in bad faith," he added. Several of the 17 white farmers detained last week said they no longer saw a future for their families in Zimbabwe while Mr Mugabe was in power. More than 100 farmers are said to have migrated to Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi and other African countries since February.

The departure of more big farmers will bring Zimbabwe's agriculture-based economy to a halt, analysts say. Agriculture accounts for about three-fifths of GDP, with tobacco alone accounting for nearly a third of all foreign currency receipts. There have been reports of looming food shortages.

Although the government has started a "fast-track programme" to resettle peasants on the 804 farms it seized last month, it does not have the money to enable the occupants to sustain production levels.

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